Serum Institute of India (SII) is ramping up production of AstraZeneca's Covid-19 vaccine, aiming to have 100 million doses ready by December for a vaccination drive that could begin across India that same month, Bloomberg reported.
If final-stage trial data show that AstraZeneca's vaccine candidate is giving effective protection from the virus, the Serum Institute of India -- which is partnered to produce at least one billion doses -- may get emergency authorisation from New Delhi by December, said Adar Poonawalla, Chief Executive Officer, SII, in an interview with Bloomberg.
That initial amount will go to India, Poonawalla said. Full approval early next year will allow distribution on a 50-50 basis between the south Asian nation and Covax, the World Health Organization-backed body that's purchasing shots for poor nations.
SII, which has tied up with five developers, has so far made 40 million doses of AstraZeneca vaccine in the past two months and aims to start manufacturing Novavax's contender soon.
"We were a bit concerned it was a big risk," said 39-year-old Poonawalla. But both AstraZeneca and Novavax`s shots "are looking pretty good", Bloomberg reported.
Poonawalla is putting USD 250 million of his family's fortune into a bid to ramp up manufacturing capacity to one billion doses through 2021.
"I decided to go all out," said Poonawalla. Among the initial skeptics: his father, Cyrus Poonawalla, the company's founder.
"He said, "Look, it's your money. If you want to blow it up, fine?" Adar said in an interview to Washington Post.
One prominent vaccine candidate requiring ultra-cold storage is "a joke" that will not work for the developing world. Anyone who declares how long a vaccine will confer immunity is talking "nonsense."
The world's entire population will not be immunised until 2024, he said, contrary to rosier predictions.
Poonawalla is equally frank about the gamble his company is taking in the pandemic.
Gavi and the Gates Foundation "want to assure vaccine supply at an affordable price," said Poonawalla. His aim, meanwhile, is to cover some of his costs. "At least my risk is taken away so I can sleep at night," he said, the report said.
The company has diverted capacity from existing vaccines and started work on a new production facility to be completed next year at its headquarters in Pune.
Poonawalla said the company has pledged to keep half of the vaccines it makes for use within India. It has already begun manufacturing the AstraZeneca vaccine, he said.
About 20 million doses have been made, and he expects to have 10 times that amount ready in the next four months, the report said.
He is optimistic that in 2021, a new coronavirus vaccine will be licensed for public use every couple of months.
"That's the good news," Poonawalla said. The less-good news is that it remains unclear which vaccine, if any, will offer long-term protection from the virus.
"Nobody wants a vaccine that is only going to protect you for a few months," he said, as per the report.